CPOST Understanding Campus Fears After October 7 and How to Reduce Them Chicago Project on Security and Threats
Robert A. Pape  |  3/7/2024

This report presents a non-partisan analysis of Antisemitism and Islamophobia among College Students and American Adults based on National Surveys Fielded December 14, 2023 to January 16, 2024.

Many urgent questions face college campuses in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent invasion of Gaza, which kicked-off numerous student-led pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests, intimidation, and violence. In response, the Chicago Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago (CPOST) conducted a study of the national campus environment. Based on two national surveys of 5,000 college students from over 600 four-year academic institutions, with an additional 5,000 American adults as a comparison set, which were fielded from mid-December 2023 to mid-January 2024, and with the benefit of a previous baseline survey of 8,000 American adults fielded in Spring of 2023, this study provides the most extensive survey evidence today about the extent of campus fears and changes in antisemitism after October 7. This study is also among the few efforts to disentangle different meanings of antisemitism and compare antisemitism and Islamophobia among respondents.

The overarching finding is that campus fears related to the current Israel-Palestinian conflict are more intense among certain groups and widespread across the student body than previously known. As a consequence of the conflict, numerous students are fearful because of their support of one side or the other:

  • 56% of Jewish college students felt in personal danger
  • 52% of Muslim college students felt in personal danger
  • 16% of other college students felt in personal danger

This equates to 2 to 3 million college students.

The findings also show that Jewish and Muslim students report fearing for their physical safety, and other students fear being caught in the crossfire. Many are additionally concerned about academic discrimination and loss of professional opportunities.

Different perceptions of intent are likely contributing to these fears. 66% of Jewish college students understand the pro-Palestinian protest chant “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free” to mean the expulsion and genocide of Israeli Jews, while only 14% of Muslim students understand the chant that way; of Jewish students who understand the phrase this way, 62% report feeling afraid. About 10% of college students would permit student groups to call for genocide against Jews, and 13% of college students say that when Jews are attacked, it is because they deserve it. When these same questions are asked about Muslims, we find the same percentages: 10% and 13%.

Campus fears are occurring in a national climate of increasing antisemitism: violent antisemitism has increased 13% nationally since Spring 2023, when CPOST conducted its previous probe of antisemitism.

The findings are concerning. College students of various backgrounds feel personally unsafe on college campuses, and there is a disturbing trend toward greater acceptance of violence, even calls for genocide, than befits the mission of the university to enable all students to flourish.

This study provides extensive information to help university and national leaders better understand and navigate the most intense challenges facing the higher education community and the country today.

In particular, the findings are an opportunity to re-center the national discussion around students and away from politics. The findings show strong support for calming actions, such as major public statements by university and national leaders that would condemn violence of any kind against any group of people. Every leader in a position of power, including protest organizers, should thus find ways to send the message, repeatedly and convincingly, that violence is never justified. They should also clarify policies on permissible political action on campus by students toward students and mechanisms and obligations to report and respond to incidents and inform campus communities about the different perceptions of intent associated with protest phrases that are encouraging campus fears. These steps will not solve everything, but reducing fears for some can have cascading calming effects for many.
 

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> Supplement (includes survey toplines)

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